Tribute to a Man of Dignity
Have you ever been in an “assisted living” facility? There is a certain smell there that no amount of cleaning supplies can cover. It is a smell of; well each of us can find our own word. Perhaps you would sniff it as the smell of depression, sadness, disappointment, hopelessness, helplessness. For me it is the combined smell of fear and futility.
Our society has both an obsession with and an aversion to looking at what death means in a life, in a family, in a society. Then a man of courage comes along to put that fear of death right out there, right where we can look it smack in the face. What he gets for his courage is a term of eight years in prison.
Jack Kevorkian died yesterday at the age of 82. He died in a hospital with his favorite music of Bach in the background. He exemplifies courage; doing the right thing in the face of opposition. Now, others may disagree and see him as a scoundrel, playing God. We could debate this issue, and it has been debated for eons.
However, when I think of the living death of so many in assisted living I wonder why we are so afraid of assisted dying? If we are in the land of the free and the home of the brave why are there so many restrictions for personal choice?
Kevorkian was a young physician who took on the challenge of how we die when he saw an emaciated cancer patient lying in a hospital bed. That was the start of a quest to understand the nature of death and dying. The story of his fight to legalize a person’s right to die led him to difficult days, stripped of his physician’s license and to jail.
Standing on the shoulders of Kevorkian’s courage is Canadian director John Zaritsky whose documentary “Right to Die” is a powerful, moving essay following retired university professor Craig Ewert suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease who went Zurich Switzerland where a group called Dignitas helped him die a death with dignity.
Jack Kevorkian was a pioneer and a man of courage. I salute him.